New Delhi: In a major political re-alignment, erstwhile arch rivals Congress and the Telegu Desam Party have decided to join hands to bring about larger opposition unity for the formation of the anti-BJP front ahead of the next general elections.
“All opposition forces are going to work together to defend India and its institutions. We are not going into the past. We are going to talk about the present and the future,” Congress President Rahul Gandhi said after an hour-long meeting with Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP president Chandrababu Naidu in Delhi.
Naidu, who has been at the forefront of many alternative alliances at the centre, has taken the initiative to bring on board all opposition parties. He also had a round of talks with BSP chief Mayawati, NCP President Sharad Pawar, Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav and others.
“It is a democratic compulsion now. We want to organise those who oppose the BJP. We want to bring them on a common platform and chalk out a common programme,” Naidu told reporters.
Both Naidu and Gandhi evaded a direct response to questions related to leadership issues of the alternative front. “Our aim is to defeat the BJP,” Gandhi said on being asked who would be the face of the non-BJP front.
The TDP and the Congress, rivals for over three decades, had already joined hands for the Telangana Assembly elections to defeat K Chandrashekar Rao’s TRS.
This was Naidu's second visit to the capital within a week, and sources said he could make one visit every week for the next few months to cement the mahagathbandhan. He has been at the forefront of coalition politics on the national stage previously too, as he twice was the convenor of the grand opposition alliance – in 1995 and in 1998.
This is for the first time Naidu met Gandhi since the TDP broke away from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Gandhi and the TDP leader had shared the dais at the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy in May.
"Today we have to save this nation and democracy. That's why I discussed with Rahulji also. In principle, we have agreed (to tie up). Some of you have doubt about our past. It is a democratic compulsion now, we are joining together to protect this country," Naidu said.
This is for the first time the southern party, which was floated by N T Rama Rao in the early 80's, primarily to defeat the Congress in the undivided Andhara Pradesh, will work with the national party.
In the past, the TDP has been a part of the NDA-I as well as NDA-II dispensations till it exited in March this year. The TDP supremo met Gandhi in the presence of top party leaders Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot.
The BJP hit back, saying the TDP is desperate as cases of corruption are being investigated against the party leaders. "TDP Govt in AP is mired in many scandals (IT, PD accounts, Irrigation scam etc.) MPs are being probed for misappropriation, tax evasion. Reason why Chandrababu Naidu is running from pillar to post to forge a 'Corrupt Alliance' in Delhi (sic)," BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao tweeted, using the hashtag "TDPisDesperate".
Naidu also said that he would meet leaders of all parties that are against the BJP and try to forge a unity amongst them.
"Those who are all against BJP, I want to meet everybody. I want to convince the need for unity and also to save democracy. Day by day, it is becoming from bad to worse. Collectively we have to work together. Finally, we want to chalk out a programme," he said.
The chief minister said though some parties have alliances at state-level, efforts would be made to bring those parties together at the national level to provide an alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
After meeting Naidu, Pawar said non-BJP parties would come out with a common minimum programme to take on the government as he expressed concern over "assault" on institutions such as the CBI and the RBI.
"If we collectively work to save democracy, we can definitely save the institutions. Chandrababu (Naidu) will talk to other state political leaders in this regard," the NCP chief told reporters, adding that a common minimum programme will be drafted once the non-BJP parties come on board to discuss the matter.
Claiming that the country was going through "difficult" times, Abdullah, after his meeting with Naidu, said, "Today, democracy is in danger and people are in danger. That is why we all met and decided to work out a common minimum programme to save democracy, institutions and the nation."
Naidu's meeting with Gandhi comes amid seat-sharing talks between the two parties for the December 7 assembly election in Telangana.
The TDP chief pointed out that he had never seen this type of attack on institutions such as CBI, RBI, ED and I-T in his political career of 40 years. "I have asked Rahulji to discuss in the party and proposed all-party meeting to chalk out a programme for future," he said.